The Afriquia Merzouga Rally has concluded today with the final stage held near the town of Erfoud. The riders had to complete a double loop in Motocross-style before turning off the engines after 1,500 demanding kilometres through the Moroccon desert.
Joaquim Rodrigues used all his skills as a former Motocross specialist to place his Hero 450 in fifth place in Friday´s stage. The Portuguese rookie finished his very first rally in ninth position overall – a great result for a rider who has never competed in such difficult circumstances.
His Indian team-mate CS Santosh has raced in Africa before, but never the Merzouga. Santosh ended his week in the top twenty overall and the final stage in 22nd.
« Today was like a Motocross race in the dunes, » Rodrigues said. « It was my first time and a lot of fun. I was a bit scared because I can´t yet read the dunes that well, but I had a decent start and then a big battle with the top guys developed. I pushed to the end and passed a guy in the last corner. Now I am really happy to finish the rally and to take my Hero bike to the end. »
CS Santosh commented: « The Merzouga is in the books. It was a very hard week, the navigation was tough, the dunes were tough, so were the rocks and the heat. I´m happy to be here at the finish. I learnt a lot of things that will help me build towards the Dakar. Really glad to be safe and sound and to be involved in this exciting project with such great people. »
« Mission accomplished, » said the team´s Managing Director Wolfgang Fischer. « A new era has started for our team. It´s great both riders made it to the finish. We are very happy to have come here with the recently formed Hero MotoSports Team Rally. It was a nice race and it gives us a very good feeling. We have fun and a great spirit in the team and that is important for the future and the results. I look very positively at the experience we collected. This was just the first step. The bike is excellent and we will provide our boys with a good backing for the future. Looking forward to the things ahead. Thanks to everyone involved and best regards to India. »
Final standings after 5 stages (provisional)
1. Kevin Benavides, ARG, Honda 15:05:52 hrs
2. Stefan Svitko, SVK, KTM 15:09:37
3. Adrien van Beveren, FRA, Yamaha 15:15:50
4. Gerard Farres Guell, SPA, KTM 15:22:06;
5. Helder Rodrigues, POR, Yamaha 15:22:45
9. Joaquim Rodrigues, POR, Hero 17:52:39
16. CS Santosh, IND, Hero 19:23:10